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Innovation showcase

Cloud makes growth ‘easy’ for global shipper

DP World breaks information barriers that slowed growth.


By Mitch Wagner | January 2021

At DP World, a United Arab Emirates company with 53,000 employees that runs 128 logistics businesses, including 90 shipping terminals and ports around the world, the technology team had two very different jobs during the early months of the pandemic.

Mohamed Absar

DP World’s Mohamed Absar says the logistics company faced enormous challenges keeping its business running safely during the pandemic, while integrating back-office operations on a single cloud platform.

One, the company needed to support daily business operations—remotely—as cargo shipping volumes in DP World ports stayed strong even as passenger ferry traffic dipped due to the COVID-19 impact.

Two, DP World’s back office needed rewiring, moving the global shipping and logistics company from a patchwork of 160 on-premises systems to a unified global suite in the cloud.

While that second one was a huge project to pull off amid COVID-19, deploying Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications across finance, human resources, and supply chain did bring unexpected upsides.

“Instead of getting worried about the negative news in the media, everybody was focused toward delivering systems,” says Mohamed Absar, DP World chief of staff for logistics and technology, and head of projects and solutions. And DP World learned it required minimal staffing in its offices to maintain critical operations.

DP World is a fast-growing company, operating ports and terminals and providing logistics services in 60 countries worldwide. The previous software system proliferation created unwanted slowdowns and costs. DP World wanted a back office that could support its growth plans, such as letting it quickly bring up new facilities and fold in acquisitions.

To deliver this, DP World decided to transition to Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications in the first half of 2020—and DP World stuck with its timetable despite COVID-19. In three months, IT staff and other employees launched cloud-based applications and switched to working from home, while continuing with business as usual.

“We were able to run the whole operation without anybody in the office,” says Absar, referring to back-office support such as finance and HR. “We never thought we’d be able to run the company without employees on site.”

 

“We were able to run the whole [back-office] operation without anybody in the office. We never thought we’d be able to run the company without employees onsite.”

Mohamed Absar, Chief of Staff for Logistics and Technology and Head of Projects and Solutions, DP World

During the pandemic, DP World identified three priorities: Protecting its people, accelerating digitization of logistics and trade, and keeping trade flowing around the world, including vital supplies.

Lessons from a rapid journey to cloud

Here are some lessons shared based on DP World’s global cloud application deployment, from Mohamed Absar, chief of staff for logistics and technology, and head of projects and solutions. The global port operator and logistics provider deployed Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications in about three months.

Inspire support: “Inspire business leaders to join the project, rather than being against the project. Everyone should feel they are transforming the organization,” Absar says.

Using cloud applications helps keep inspiration alive, since Oracle releases new capabilities on a quarterly cadence: “It keeps business users excited in terms of what’s being introduced that’s new, that they have not experienced in the past.”

Get executive sponsorship: “Unless you have executive sponsorship, the business will stick with the status quo,” Absar says.

No change for change’s sake: DP World had two rules: Any process or system had to generate revenue, or bring the company into compliance with regulations. “If the change is not meeting either of those two requirements, we stayed away—put it on the back burner,” Absar says.

Standardize: Oracle Fusion Applications are based on business best practices, so stay with the standard product, Absar advises. If everybody uses their own processes, you never standardize, and standardization makes it easy to roll a product or process out across the entire organization, Absar says. “That goal has to be understood by stakeholders,” he says.

Don’t ask for requirements, but rather provide answers: Instead of asking business leaders what they need, demonstrate what Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications can deliver. Challenge business leaders for reasons if they find those approaches inadequate.

Create competition: Share how various business units are going live and achieving results. Business units will want to lead, creating urgency to create value for the whole organization.

The pandemic hasn’t put a major dent in DP World’s revenue, and post-pandemic, DP World expects to see a rebound in world trade. Perhaps most importantly, DP World will contribute to the global effort to deliver vaccines, which has been described as one of the biggest logistics challenges since World War II.

And the company expects permanent change to its business processes, inspired by changes during the pandemic. Trade around the world remains surprisingly analog, with pieces of paper accompanying cargo from factories to ports to ships, through customs, and on to final customers. Many processes require people to go to offices to literally submit paperwork. DP World aims to lead the digitization of global trade and logistics, and to enhance the efficiency of its own internal processes.

As just one example, with Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP, an employee can scan documents using a mobile phone and submit electronically. And even with most people working remotely, the finance team has cut the monthly close process from 15 days to 3, using Oracle Cloud ERP.

Many become one

Prior to moving to cloud applications, DP World was challenged to get its 160 enterprise applications to communicate. Teams struggled to bring together information needed for fast, strategic decisions.

In particular, the month-end close created a challenge, with business units operating on different ledgers, in different locations, using different conventions—even different calendars.

DP World evaluated alternatives and went with Oracle Cloud applications because of Oracle’s breadth of offerings and a history of partnerships between the two companies. That history goes back to 2005, when DP World deployed Oracle E-Business Suite in its home UAE region.

“Because the majority of the organization was already using the Oracle solution, it would be easy for them to switch from on-premises to the cloud,” Absar says. “That was one of the major decision factors for choosing Oracle.” Oracle also was more cost-effective and offered an overall better solution than competitors and had positive analyst evaluations, Absar says. And Oracle maintains a steady innovation cadence, with quarterly updates.

Absar says DP World wanted to stop mixing and matching apps from multiple providers. Whatever benefit a given niche application brought would be offset by the need to integrate all those systems together.

‘Single source of truth’

DP World’s transition to the cloud provides a foundation for its global “One Strategy” initiative, encompassing financial systems, human resources, operations, and customer relations: One Financial, One Employee, One Operation, and One Customer. The IT migration centralizes enterprise information into a single source of truth and provides an audit trail for compliance, Absar says.

Support for faster growth is another critical outcome from the Oracle migration. Previously, getting a complete on-premises system up and running in a new location took a year, including setting up a data center. Using Fusion Applications, a new terminal can go online in 15 to 20 weeks.

Moving to the cloud eliminates the significant costs of maintaining a global network of data centers to run on-premises applications. DP World still requires some small, specialized data centers for some industrial systems, such as cranes that are operated remotely and require communications between cameras, cranes, and systems using on-site computing power. But the migration to Oracle’s cloud applications eliminates the vast majority of data centers.

DP World also cut the cost of upgrading and modifying its 160-plus previous separate systems. Oracle provides a single, unified system in the cloud, with upgrades managed by Oracle and with no customizations. DP World no longer needs its IT staff to upgrade, customize, and maintain all of those applications and can deploy IT resources to other, more important work. Consolidating on one application suite has also reduced licensing costs by 10%.

In finance, using Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP has cut the time needed for budgeting in half, and invoice processing in procurement is 50% to 60% faster. In supply chain, DP World has been able to integrate disconnected supply chain processes onto a single platform, Oracle Fusion Cloud SCM, to eliminate customizations and reduce IT and infrastructure costs.

And in HR, Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM provides visibility about employees globally. Oracle Cloud HCM reduces time spent working on core HR processes such as onboarding, offboarding, and calculating compensation. “All those things become very easy,” Absar says. Identifying talent and transferring employees from one location to another has also been simplified.

Overall, the migration to Oracle Fusion Applications makes business growth less difficult. Automation reduces time-to-market for opening a new terminal, or integrating a company following an acquisition. “Once you have the standard processes, it becomes cookie-cutter,” Absar says.

Photography: DP World

Mitch Wagner

Mitch Wagner

Mitch Wagner is a senior writer at Oracle. He was previously executive editor at Light Reading and at InformationWeek.